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By the first years of the 1900's, most of the earth had been explored.  One exception, however, were the polar regions. In the equivalent of the Apollo moonshots, large organized expeditions raced each other to be the first at the poles, and these adventures were breathlessly reported by the press of the day to an eager public.

One of these explorers was Roald Amundsen, from Norway.

As a boy, Amundsen had been inspired by the exploits of fellow Norwegian Fritjof Nansen, who had trekked across Greenland in 1888 and led an unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole in 1893. (Nansen later became a statesman, was instrumental in winning Norway's independence from Sweden, and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with World War One refugees.)

In 1907, after participating in explorations in the Arctic and the Antarctic, Amundsen organized his own expedition to become the first to reach the North Pole, using the same ship that Fritjof had--the Fram. The Fram was specially built to withstand polar conditions--her heavily-braced sides were made from extra-thick oak, and were specially rounded to allow the ship to pop upwards above the sheet ice instead of becoming trapped and crushed. Amundsen was too late, however--in 1909, while he was still planning his expedition, the American explorer Robert Peary reached the North Pole. (A year earlier, another American, Frederick Cook, had also claimed to have reached the Pole, but his claim was disputed by experts. Later, Peary's own claim was disputed, and most historians today agree that Peary did not actually reach the Pole.)

In response, Amundsen secretly switched his goal. When the Fram expedition set sail in 1910, he told the surprised crew that they were not going north to the Arctic region, but instead would sail all the way to the Antarctic and attempt to reach the South Pole. At the same time, British explorer Robert F Scott was launching his own expedition to the South Pole.  The race was on.

The two took very different approaches to their expeditions. The Scott expedition was very well-planned in minute detail and precise steps, with man-drawn sledges, tons of cached equipment and food, and the very latest cold-weather clothing and equipment.  Amundsen, on the other hand, dressing in Inuit-style clothing and eating his sled dogs along the way (supplementing his small supply caches), would simply make a mad dash for the Pole.

The Fram arrived at the Ross Ice Shelf in January 1911. After one attempt to cross the Antarctic ice to the Pole ran into bad weather and aborted, another attempt set out in October 1911, with Amundsen himself leading 4 sleds, 52 dogs, and 4 other men. They reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911. When they returned to the Fram on January 25, 1912, they had only 11 sled dogs left--they had eaten the rest. Amundsen became an international hero.

There was a tragic postcript to the expedition, however. When Scott arrived in Antarctica in 1911, he knew that Amundsen was already camped at the Ross Ice Shelf, but did not know how far along Amundsen was towards the Pole. Scott's group of 5 men reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912--only to find an abandoned tent with the Norwegian flag still flying over it.  Amundsen had already been there five weeks before. On the trip back from the Pole, Scott's group ran into severe weather, and all five died. (A further historical footnote: the unusually extreme cold of early 1912 that killed Scott's expedition also allowed icebergs to drift much further south in the Atlantic Ocean than usual, into the Atlantic shipping lanes--producing a collision in April 1912 between an iceberg and the new passenger liner RMS Titanic.)

Amundsen continued his polar explorations, and in 1926, he became the first person to unambiguously reach the North Pole, flying over it in an airship named the Norge (the American Richard Byrd had claimed to have flown over the North Pole in an airplane just a few days before Amundsen, but his claim has since been disputed as inaccurate and perhaps fraudulent). Two years later, Amundsen disappeared when his search airplane, looking for the crew of a downed exploration balloon in the Barents Sea, never returned and was presumed to have crashed.

Upon her return to Norway after the South Pole expedition, the Fram sat in storage for a few years before being restored. In 1936, the Fram Museum was opened in Oslo, where the complete ship is preserved, and visitors can walk her decks and explore her interior. There are also exhibits depicting polar exploration and the lives of Fritjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen.

Here are some photos taken in the Fram Museum in 2011.

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The Fram.

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The Fram Museum.  The entire ship is exhibited, with galleries depicting polar life and the equipment used by the Nansen and Amundsen expeditions.

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The Fram was specially built for polar conditions. The ship had both sails and a diesel engine, and was specially reinforced to withstand the ice.

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The sides of the ship were made rounded so it would pop up and ride atop the ice, instead of being crushed from the sides by the pressure like other ships had been.

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The Inuit-style clothing worn by the Amundsen expedition.

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Inuit-style equipment included harpoons and skin floats used to hunt seals at base camp.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 07:53 AM PST.

Also republished by Shutterbugs.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Very interesting Lenny. Thanks for posting this. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

    "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats ..." - Kenneth Grahame -

    by RonK on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 08:45:39 AM PST

  •  Scott - Stupidity, Ego, Madness (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa

    Didn't he have his men collecting rocks on the way in?  Like "Oooo that's a nice rock, let's pick it up now and haul it all the way to the south pole! What? No don't leave to pick up on the trip back!"

    By the end weren't some of his men doing what seems to happen in extreme survival situations - just hallucinating and wandering off to die.

    Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness. -Pascal

    by bernardpliers on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 08:55:54 AM PST

  •  North Pole frauds: the All-American sport (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

    Cook, Peary, and Byrd: all American, all claimed to have reached the North Pole, and all three lied about it.

    Byrd's fraud is the most easily proven, by his own flight diary, discovered in 1996, showing erased sextant readings that showed up entirely differently in his typescript official report.

    Cook would have been believed for a long time had not Peary denounced his claim as fraudulent. In the subsequent investigation his claim fell through for complete lack of evidence, combined with discovery of an earlier geographic fraud: his claim to have climbed Mt. McKinley in 1906, later denied by his climbing partner. Thus Cook's claim is based on the bare word of a known liar.

    Peary at least got far out on the ice, but subjecting his claim to the same standards as Cook causes the same failure: lack of evidence, combined with discovery of an earlier geographic fraud. In Peary's case, the earlier fraud was his 1906 claim to have seen "Crocker Land" from the mountains of Ellesmere Island. This allegedly occurred on the same day he wrote in his diary "no land visible".

    We are all in the same boat on a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -- G.K. Chesterton

    by Keith Pickering on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 09:03:40 AM PST

  •  Scott's last journal entry was this : (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BusyinCA, RiveroftheWest

    We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last ... Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.

    Rivers are horses and kayaks are their saddles

    by River Rover on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 09:42:53 AM PST

  •  All of the Oslo Museums are ... (3+ / 0-)

    very interesting. As is Oslo itself. Thanks for the reminder and the photos.

    I really must find a good sig line!

    by Rileycat on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 09:48:49 AM PST

  •  Oh cool! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    It is a great museum.  Our family was there in 2000.  The folk museum was top notch too.  

    Thanks for these memories.

    "You want to be a bit compulsive in your art or craft or whatever you do." Steve Martin

    by Kristin in WA on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 10:03:29 AM PST

  •  Hard to imagine that the Poles were once regarded (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    as impossibly remote and inaccessible. Hard to believe that a mere 58 years later, explorers were walking on the Moon.

    “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
    he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

    by jjohnjj on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 07:48:11 AM PST

  •  great! On my list. I love antarctic (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    and arctic exploration stories.

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